Watch the video of the testimony by Paria Kohandel, a young Iranian political activist who is the daughter of prominent political prisoner Saleh Kohandel and who escaped the sufferings and torments in Iran months ago.
Text of speech by Paria Kohandel at a conference on human rights in Iran on the occasion of the World Day Against the Death Penalty
Paris – October 10, 2015
Greetings to my dear sister Maryam [Rajavi] and all you dear friends,
Greetings to the combatants in Camp Liberty and all my compatriots that hear my voice,
My name is Paria Kohandel and I left Iran only a few months ago.
My father is political prisoner Saleh Kohandel who is imprisoned in the dreaded Gohardasht Prison.
On April 19, 2011, my dear uncle Akbar and my beloved aunt Mahdieh were martyred in an attack [on Camp Ashraf] by Nuri Maliki’s paid hands.
My dear sister Maryam, I bring you many greetings and hails.
The greetings of thousands of political prisoner in Iran prisons;
The cries of mothers whose tears rain down on the floors of prisons;
The greetings of the working children with calloused hands who are waiting to breathe the clean air that you represent; the air of liberty and emancipation;
The greetings of the trampled girls in the pus of mullahs’ ruled society;
The greetings of those who kiss the noose in Gohardasht, Evin and Kahrizak.
My greetings have passed through the barbed wires of Gohardasht, the thick walls of Evin, and the storehouses of Qarchak;
The prisons that during my childhood I used to run in their dusty visitors’ halls.
I am the weekly voyager to Gohardasht and Evin prisons. As my father says, the Pari with a wonderful voice whose father lived only 20 minutes a week.
Twenty minutes from behind the dusty glasses and my only hope was to see the shine in the eyes of my father when he talked about liberty. He was so energetic and I couldn’t figure out where he brings all that energy from.
I go back to March 4, 2007 when I was an 8-year-old restless girl.
I was deep in my thoughts and was calmly weeping. My father embraced me and kept talking to me until I fell asleep. The morning of that day, elements of the intelligence ministry broke into our house, broke our windows, put a gun to my head and took my father with them.
My father was in prison for 1.5 years before that as well and this time, because he said no to their demand that he speak against the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI, or MEK) in an interview, he was condemned to ten years in prison in exile and was sent to the dreaded Gohardasht prison.
The whole story was about these 10 years that led me to choose this path in my life.
A few months ago, exactly 20 days before the entrance test for universities, I left Iran.
I said to myself that Paria you now can have anything that you ever wanted that was forbidden in Iran. All your dreams and your colorful wishes; to ride a motorcycle that was my biggest dream, to exercise Parkour and gymnastics, and to study my favorite field which is physics.
However, what I had left behind in Iran would not let go of me. I found myself in a dilemma: should I follow my dreams or should I choose the path of resistance to bring about the dreams of all the children that are captive in Iran, such as the dreams of my dear friend and other girls like her?
In the last moments of making that decision, I remembered my last meeting with my father.
As I was going to visit him, a 9-year-old boy came along. He passed through the dark and horrendous 1 km tunnel of Gohardasht with me. He was carrying a drawing in his hand. When I looked at it, I wanted to cry. He had drawn a picture of himself and his father hand in hand.
I remembered my childhood when I was in his shoes. I was really moved. I told my father: Today, as I was coming to see you, I passed through the memories of my childhood.
That boy had a message for me which said: Paria, look! You are not the sole traveler of these tunnels. Before you, hundreds of children have traveled these tunnels and after you hundreds of other children are condemned to pass this path as long as this regime rules your homeland.
And the other moments that I had in making my decision:
I remembered uncle Ali, I am talking about Ali Saremi, the best uncle in the whole world; his last glance at me. Resting his head against the skewed bars of the visitors’ cabin he smiled as he saw me, a lovely smile that was full of energy. It had a message for me. A few weeks later, I heard that he had been executed.
My best uncle was gone. It was as if I had to get used to see people that I love leave me; like uncle Abdolreza Rajabi that was martyred under torture. Or the sad moments that I again experienced when uncle Mohsen Dogmechi was martyred. These moments made me restless. I saw my solid and powerful uncle Mohsen who had become sick and feeble because he was deprived of medical care, but his love still penetrated the depth of my soul and his power still shook the guards.
All of them had a message for me in the last minutes of their lives. At that moment, I came to understand that I have to be their voice, to testify to their struggle, to be the interpretation of the glance of uncles Mohsens and Alis. This would be my responsibility and my great dream.
I understood that I cannot just think about my own dreams. My colorful dreams are just a small part of my life. I owe it to my family, to the prisoners, to my martyred uncles, and ultimately to my struggling father; because I am free now.
When the Iranian girls have so many dreams that look so far away, to pursue my own dreams would be selfish. And that was how I forwent my small interests, just like thousands of Ashrafis.
My big dream is to see the happiness of children so that they never have to pass through the tunnel of Gohardasht.
To make true the dream of girl petty sellers or the small boys that sell omens in our neighborhood.
Dear sister Maryam,
It is difficult to become a Mahdieh. I was afraid of such great responsibility on my shoulders, but in your glance and in your trust and love I saw the message “we must and can”.
I will carry the flag of Mahdieh on my shoulder. Here today, in front of everyone, I pledge to travel the path of my martyred aunt and uncle and to bring about the world of love to everyone, without any expectations for myself.
Now that I am among all of you who work for freedom, I can hear the echo of my father’s call who said: Paria! I have drunk the pure wine that you have not even smelled!
From here, I say to all those resistive prisoners that I used to see every week from behind the cabin windows that I have learned from all of you that perseverance and resistance is something that no one can take away from you.
To my dear brother Massoud I say that I, Parisa Kohandel, have chosen to be a Mojahed and to remain steadfast as a Mojahed until the very end.
I’m ready, ready, ready!